Social policies are implemented with the purpose of resolving social problems in society and providing adequate support to people living with disadvantage (Dean, 2014). There are some groups of people in community who suffers greater disadvantage in all areas of life and their disadvantage is defined by social, economic and cultural determinants in society (Fisher et al., 2016). Some of the groups who are major targets of social policies include unemployed people, single parents, aged people, women, children, and those living with disability. This is because they experience social injustice due to inequality in the areas of employment, health, housing and other areas of life. Hence, social policies focus on eliminating gaps in social aspects of well-being and bringing positive changes in the community. This essay particularly focuses on analyzing the position of Indigenous Australians in community and findings out ways in which social policy domains in the area of income support and health care has influence the Indigenous Australians. The paper analyzes social policies under the income support and health care domain and gives an insight into the strength and limitation of social policy domain on impacting the lives of the selected population group.
Indigenous Australians are one of the distinct cultural groups in Australia who used to live in surrounding islands of the country. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders also comprise the group of indigenous Australians and they follow mix of both contemporary and traditional practices. They are also regarded as the first inhabitant of Australia as they were the first human to settle down in the country. By the time, European settlers arrived in Australian in 1778, there were about 3,20,000 Aborigines in the country (Shareourpride.org.au., 2018). After the European settlement, indigenous Australians have to resettle in other lands. The history of forced resettlement and the loss of land has been a contributor to disadvantages in the group. They have been marginalized from society and they lag behind from non-indigenous Australians in the areas of employment, health, housing and education.
The perception of indigenous Australians has changed over time. According to current perception, indigenous Australians are regarded as the most disadvantaged group in Australia because of disparities between indigenous and non-indigenous Australians across all parameters of quality of life. A number of socio-economic factors create disadvantages for the group and increase risk of health and well-being. Although indigenous people continue to inhabit Australia, however they live in a separate social stratum and retain links to traditional culture and beliefs. Indigenous people do not trust social workers because they also played a role in removal of children during colonization. Issues of social justice, equity and social disadvantage hamper sustainable and effective relation between indigenous Australians too (Bennett 2015). Although many multicultural policies and immigration policies have been implemented in Australia to encourage a culturally diverse population, however still indigenous Australians have been recognized as having lower level of unemployment and greater negative health complications compared too rest of the population (Mitrou et al. 2014).
Income support policy is one of the policy domains that have focused on welfare of the indigenous groups. Income support policies are crucial for social security and alleviating burden of unemployment and poverty for disadvantages group in society (Carson & Kerr, 2017). Low socioeconomic position in terms of income and occupation also has association between greater burden of disease and mortality in countries (Arno et al., 2011). Evidence related to burden of disease and disparities in health status between indigenous Australians and rest of the population points out to the need for immediate policy action for this group (Vos et al., 2009). A study on cardio-metabolic risk and disease in indigenous Australians also revealed that unemployed individuals are most likely to have cardiovascular disease (Brown et al. 2014). Hence, this proves that higher income is associated with lower odds of health risk and social disadvantage in people and income support policies improves the economic status of people living in poverty. Income support policy can achieve its goal when income support measures are complemented with strategies to eliminate factors contributing to social problem in indigenous group. The role of income support policy and its impact on indigenous Australians will be analyzed in later part of essay.
Apart from income support, another policy domain that is importance in the context of welfare of indigenous Australians includes the health policies. This is because indigenous Australians have lower life expectancies and worse health outcome compared to non-indigenous people (Durey & Thompson, 2012). Life expectancy is a parameter that describes population health and for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people born in 2010-2012, life expectancy has been estimated to be 10.6 years lower compared to non-indigenous population (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 2018). Such evidence affirms the fact that health policy domain is a necessary element to assess the fate of welfare activities done in the area of health for indigenous group. Evaluation of health policies for indigenous Australian will help to determine whether health policies have been effective in reducing health disparities or not. It may also help to assess whether health policies promote or compromise indigenous health and well-being.
To evaluate the role of income support policy domain in influencing lives of Indigenous people, there is a need to analyze the performance of specific income support policies that has been implemented for the group. Income inequality is a significant issue in indigenous people and this is evident from the 2014-2015 statistics that only less than 46 % of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people above 15 years are employed in Australia. In addition, more number of males were found to be employed compared to females (Abs.gov.au, 2015). The statistics also revealed that unemployment rate was high in those living in remote areas compared to those living in non-remote areas. Hence, the above data gives implications for a policy that addresses large income disparities between indigenous and non-indigenous people. In the domain of income support policy, some of the policies that focused on providing income support options to Aboriginal Australians include the Aboriginal Employment Development Policy (AEDP), the Community Development Employment Projects (CDEP) scheme and the most recent Aboriginal Employment Strategy 2013-2015.
The sources of income for people in Australia come in the form of wages, salaries, investment, government benefits and income. Indigenous people received very small amount of income from non-wage sources compares to non-indigenous people (Howlett, Gray & Hunter, 2016).. The CDEP is a program that played a role in pooling unemployment benefit entitlement of individual indigenous people into their direct wages and this benefit was for those who participated in community development programs to get access to income support payments. The scheme targeted indigenous people living both in remote and non-remote areas before 2009. Changes in CDEP schemes occurred after 2009 when the scheme was discontinued in non-remote location because economy was well-established in those areas. However, those who joined the scheme before 2009 continued to receive wages and new participants received income support benefits (Abs.gov.au, 2012). The main impact of the CDEP scheme on indigenous people was that it provided them social security and opportunities to enter mainstream labor market programs. Furthermore, by focusing on the equal rights of indigenous people in the area of economic, social and cultural rights, the CDEP scheme provided the right support to address unemployment gap occurring due to remoteness of location (Jordan, 2016). Despite this success, some limitations found in the policy is that CDEP participants were not uniformly treated by Commonwealth agencies thus pointing out to perception of discrimination issues in the scheme.
The main benefits of the CDEP scheme was that it allowed indigenous Australians to get employment opportunities within their communities instead of passively receiving social security. However, after criticism of the scheme for being discriminatory towards its participant, there was a need for policies that incentivize employment for this population group. The reform of the CDEP scheme gave rise to new policy framework called ‘Australians Working Together’. This policy helped indigenous people to enter into mainstream employment (Dss.gov.au. 2018). Besides this, the Aboriginal Employment Strategy 2013-2015 was one of the policies that focused on making a difference in the Aboriginal employment outcome. The main goal of this policy was to empower people by preserving diversity and developing a welcoming and respectful work culture. This policy was also aiming to address the COAG’s (Council of Australian Government) policy objective of ‘closing the gap’. With certain ambitious policy drivers like reconciliation, substantive Equality and National Indigenous Reform Agreement, the strategy played a role in creating an inclusive environment work environment for Aboriginal people and developing their skills in doing their jobs (commerce.wa.gov.au, 2018).
Another policy domain that is a focus for indigenous Australians is the health policy. Health policy is a domain that focuses on health equity and resource redistribution to address disparities in health outcome in a population group. For indigenous Australian, one of the major reasons for poor life expectancy and adverse health outcome is inequality in access to health services. Access to health services is an important factor that can affect health status of indigenous population (Bowling 2014). One specific policy that has been implemented for the improving the health status of Aboriginals include the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Plan 2013-2024. The main focus of this policy framework was to close the gap in health outcome in the selected population group and achieve equality in health status and life expectancy between indigenous and non-indigenous Australians by 2031 (health.gov.au., 2018). The main advantage of this policy in changing lives of Indigenous Australian is that it is inspired by the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and so it took strength based approach to promote health and positive behavior in indigenous people. The advantage of taking strength based approach is that it values individuals’ skills and knowledge and pays special attention to build on strength of target group to provide solutions to problem (Carson & Kerr, 2017). This is crucial in shifting the balance of care. Hence, the health plan 2013-2014 has been the reason for implementation of many guidelines related to improving the accessibility of health services for indigenous people. Many effective programs are now reaching remote areas to provide health service to people.
Policy development and progress in indigenous health is also monitored by the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Performance Framework. With the vision of creating equitable and efficient health care system and address health of indigenous people, this framework gave directive to Australian government for investment in indigenous advancement programs. Hence, the Indigenous Australians Health Programme plays a role in addressing issues faced by indigenous people due to cultural difference, language gap and remoteness of location. This programme also fulfilled local health need of Indigenous Australians (Pmc.gov.au, 2018). For aboriginal people, some of the barrier to health access was negative experience with health care staffs. Health care staffs were found to lack cultural competence to understand the values and culture of these people. This resulted in alienation from services (Clifford et al., 2015). However, health policy led to positive implications in the area of cultural competence in health service. Many programmes are now being implemented to provide training to health care workers regarding cultural competence. Education and training of the health care workforce is likely to provide indigenous groups positive experience in accessing health services. In addition, chronic disease programmes are engaging them in health lifestyle promotion activities. Primary health care funding has also increased leading to good follow-on care, incentive payments and chronic disease management (Pmc.gov.au, 2018).
The essay gave an insight into the role of health policy and income support policies on influencing the life of Indigenous Australian. By evaluating the role of these policies on addressing employment and health issues in the group, it can be concluded that these policies has been influential in driving positive changes for the well-being of the indigenous population. However, by reviewing employment policies, it is predicted that addressing discrimination in the delivery of income support policies might be a challenge in the future. Hence, changing the attitude of non-indigenous people and inclusive work culture across various sectors might be a challenging task in the future. In case of health policies, aligning and sustaining goals of the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Plan 2013-2024 for a long period might be a challenge. However, social policies can look to evaluate existing programs and identify existing gaps in data to plan ways to address issue in the future.
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